May '10

 

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I could be the stereotypical artist and say that, no, my style does not fall into a category, that I don't like my art to be labeled, that I don't like to be pigeonholed, but I know that we're human. Humans like to categorize. It's in our nature. Since I'm influenced by a lot of different artists and by many different things, what shows through in my work has been described as "retro" or has a "retro feel". Obviously, this would be from my interest in mid-century art and design and from the many fascinating, yet long-forgotten artists who did amazing work from the 1940's to the 1960's. Now, I'm not going to get all temperamental and exclaim that people just don't know what they're talking about. I can see it. It's obvious why people would label my work as being "retro" and I'm okay with that. I hope they see in my work something that's somewhat influenced by that era, but not derivative.

The development of my style evolved over several years, starting with my interest in graffiti. The type of work I was doing before was more along the lines of cartoons and comic book style–being an animator, I was interested in all types of cartoons and animated films from the likes of Looney Tunes, Disney, you name it. So, my style at the time had elements of all this, but nothing worth noting. I didn't have a "voice" yet in my work, and I was struggling artistically and creatively.

When I got into graffiti, my artistic outlook completely changed. It was in the way I constructed characters, and by looking at things differently. Also, by going from paper to brick wall, how I executed my work had a great impact. I had to utilize my entire arm and at times, entire body just to paint one character on a wall. Compare this with just using my hand and wrist when I drew at my desk. This change made me more aware of how I was drawing my characters and, more importantly, how I was constructing them. It was through this process when I started to simplify and pare back what I was doing with my characters originally. By breaking down and deconstructing the shapes, as well as flattening the perspective, it was as if I was "unlearning" everything I had ever studied in my figure drawing classes back in school. It was strange for me–I wasn't used to drawing this way and was worried that I was drawing "badly" and feared that I wouldn't regain my skills back. But the thought processes were still intact, I was simply taking the same information and reinterpreting them for my needs.

Obviously, graffiti has had the greatest influence on me artistically, but there's been a few other sources that's played a big part in the development of my style. In college, the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Robert Rauschenberg, and Marcel Duchamp played a big role in how I looked at things as well as my life around me. I began to see objects as works of art in and of themselves. I began to see the beauty in the ugly, the messy, the work-in-progress, so to speak. I love the mundane, the forgotten, the overlooked, the unseen in the city. I guess that's why graffiti spoke to me so loudly during the time I was hanging out with graffiti writers. It was something that had been calling my name out for some time now, and I finally responded.

Several years afterwards, I started getting into vintage ephemera, cookbooks, and children's books from the mid-century era. I guess I was interested in how simple, yet sophisticated the illustrations were in each of these items. I noticed that the most basic of illustrations, the two color spot ones, seemed to have so much going on when I stopped to look at the details. So, after collecting a few items here and there, it suddenly took off and I found myself wanting to gather as many books and pamphlets I could from that time. It was slightly addictive, I should say. As I collected each item, I would pore over every page, every character, every bit of detail, to see how the artist worked in getting this look. Again, it was about the sophistication of each piece, and just how easy these artists made it look, when in reality, it was very difficult to pull it off. And most of them did their work without getting proper credit. I can't tell you how many times I've picked up a wonderfully illustrated cookbook, only to flip through the pages to see the artwork uncredited. I can't imagine the feeling if I was one of those artists during that time. I guess it was typical.

A few artists I've been greatly influenced by have been Jim Flora, Abner Graboff, David Weidman, Aurelius Battaglia, Alice and Martin Provensen, J.P. Miller, Mel Crawford, Mary Blair, Art Seiden, William Dugan, among others. For recent influences, I love the works of Jared Chapman, Josh Cochran, Jillian Tamaki, Matte Stephens, Paul Rogers, Matthew Lyons, and many more. I can't possibly list them all. The great thing about the internet is the ease of finding out about these artists. I love that you can go on Flickr and do a search for any one of the mid-century artists and see their artwork immediately. It's a good time for influences and resources. I love it.

I'm a firm believer in working with the tactile–pencil on paper. Even when it comes to animation. When I start on a piece or on a kid's book, I start off with thumbnails and rough sketches in pencil, then scan those in and print them out larger, so I can re-draw and re-work them on a larger scale.

Once I get the look of the characters and the overall layout down, I then use the animation disc to trace over the drawings with a tighter pencil line. Sometimes I'll use a pen, but mostly it's pencil. (I love the roughness of the line that pencil gives me.) I'll then scan the drawings and paint them in Photoshop. I use several different brushes that give off a painterly and/or chalky appearance, to retain the look of natural medium. I do not use the airbrush tool in Photoshop, nor do I use any other gimmicky tool that might make my work look too "computer-y." I'm sure it's nice to use those sort of tools for whatever people use them for, but it's easy to end up using Photoshop as a crutch. I try my best not to do that. That's why I enjoy keeping some of the pencil line work intact in my pieces. Like I mentioned earlier, I like the messy. I'll even use some textures in a few pieces, to give off a collage effect.

How exactly I got into graffiti was a somewhat roundabout way. I had this idea to do an animated short about a lone graffiti writer and I didn't want to use just photos of graffiti as reference off the internet or magazines. I wanted to actually meet some writers and hang out with them, take notes, do some sketches, take some photos while they worked. So, I put out a post on a local (Atlanta) graffiti-based forum asking if anyone wanted to help me out on a short film about graffiti and that it would be animated. I received a few replies and would hang out with these guys for a while. As I watched, it became apparent that I caught the bug. I got curious and soon was painting myself, alongside these kids. It was invigorating.
















Images for this article are the property of Ward Jenkins

I only painted on legal, or permission, walls. My daughter had just been born and I didn't want my wife worrying too much about me. The last thing I wanted was my daughter to ask "where's daddy?" and Andrea having to tell her "Daddy's in jail for painting on walls, sweetie." I know that it might've thrown off my street cred, but I didn't care. It was not worth the risk, no matter how exciting the act of painting on hot (or illegal) walls was.

Size was the greatest challenge. Graffiti makes you use your entire body and I often would be worn out after creating a character, with a few pulled muscles I didn't know I had. It's a taxing experience, but exhilarating all the same. Being so close to your work, you can't help but notice any problems that might arise as you create each piece. Besides appeasing your inner critic, you're also wanting to appease your audience, who often aren't very forgiving. Fellow graffiti writers are notorious for being highly critical of other writers' work, especially those who are just starting out. (They lovingly refer to them as "toys.") To some, this might sound mean (and to some degree it is), but I've come to understand that it's just a way of weeding out the weak–only the strong (and talented) ones will break through and keep doing their thing. Believe it or not, graffiti is really about nurturing skills and talent, and it's fascinating to see young kids get so good so quickly.

People can see my artwork on my official site: http://www.wardjenkins.com. I also sell prints of my work, including most of the "b-boy" show I did in 2008 in my Etsy shop:

The Ward-O-Matic Shop

I'm in the process of getting a large format printer so hopefully I'll have larger versions of my work available soon. Larger than the typical 8 x 10 inch (or 8.5 x 11) variety, that is. You can check out more of my work in my Flickr, too:

My Art

My Sketches

My Graffiti









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